SPIE Cancels DCS In-Person Conference, COVID-19 Leads to Surge in Online Conferences

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PITTSFIELD, Mass., March 17, 2020 — SPIE has announced that it is canceling the in-person format of April’s Defense + Commercial Sensing Conference and moving online in the wake of increased coronavirus awareness. With WHO officially declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, several optics and laser companies have been canceling open conferences in favor of online formats while other organizers are canceling their events altogether. AIA’s Vision Show out of Boston was recently canceled for this year with the organizers planning an online conference in the fall. Machine Vision Conference in Milton Keynes, England, was also scheduled for May 14, but due to the spread of the virus is now mostly canceled with several educational sessions moving to an online format.

According to Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, AIA’s parent company, each organization’s decision whether to cancel, reschedule, or go online is largely dependent on the third parties and contracts with which they are working.

“Each contract with convention centers, hotels, and third parties can make one decision financially wiser than another,” Burnstein said. “For instance, there may be no penalties for postponement but big penalties for cancellation.

Burnstein said that the organizer has to prioritize the safety of its team, exhibitors, speakers, and event visitors, as well as the evaluating the outcome of success.

“What is the likelihood of producing a successful event in a time when entire cities are ‘sheltering in place’? How about international visitors — will they even be able to attend?” Burnstein said.

With the Vision Show canceled, Burnstein said the next issue his organization needs to address is determining which course of action and type of event provides the most value to everyone involved.

“We chose to cancel the Vision Show slated for June 9-11 in Boston because we believed that the coronavirus would make it impossible to have a safe and successful show given the current global situation,” Burnstein said. “This decision will cost our organization a tremendous amount of money, but we have no doubt that it was the right thing to do. We announced the decision on March 10. Since then the pandemic has accelerated as we feared. Personally, I hope every major show and conference will follow our lead so that together we can flatten the curve.”

USC professor Andrea Armani, the Ray Irani chair in chemical engineering and materials science, has been a champion of the online conference format, holding her own event in January 2020 called Photonics Online Meetup (POM) as a way to make a smaller environmental impact, reduce costs, and allow for more attendees.

“COVID has made the entire global community rethink the importance of conferences,” Armani said. “Just three months ago, when my colleagues and I launched POM, many of our peers told us that it was a fruitless effort because face-to-face interactions were critical to advance science. Yet, in the face of a pandemic, what is truly critical is re-evaluated.”

Armani, who will be hosting another online conference in April for prospective Ph.D. students (details here), said the online format is an improvement not just for health safety, but for more diverse collaboration.

“Researchers on different continents who have never met are collaborating from their home institutions to accelerate the development of a COVID diagnostic,” she said. “Conferences are happening virtually, which has allowed an even broader and more diverse audience to jump in and watch the presentations.”

Though the impact the virus has had on the global population has caused headaches for attendees and exhibitors in rescheduling efforts, Armani is optimistic on the changes: “Like any pandemic, COVID will irreparably change society and how people interact, but hopefully, the acceptance of virtual conferences will be a positive outcome.”

Published: March 2020
BusinessSPIEA3AIAcoronavirusDefense + Commercial SensingDCSWHOCDCMachine Vision ConferenceBostonJeff BurnsteinVision ShowAndrea ArmaniMaterialspandemiconlineEvents

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